New Help for Old Buildings

Older properties can have charm, history and ambience. But one thing they often lack is a cable- and Wi-Fi-friendly infrastructure.

As one exasperated general manager says, “We have some rooms that never get a good Wi-Fi signal, no matter what we do. We consistently have to apologize and move Internet-dependent guests out of some guestrooms. And on nights we have no additional rooms with good access, we end up compensating those guests. I don't know that we'll ever solve the problem.”

In many older properties, these woes are not confined to guestrooms. Public spaces, too, can have “dead zones” where Wi-Fi signals are difficult or impossible to transmit and aesthetic considerations prevent installation of an Ethernet jack. Imagine a client showing up for a banquet function with a notebook computer ready to do on-line check-in for the group's event, only to discover the event booked in a banquet room lacking Internet access — either by patch cord or Wi-Fi.

Take heart. There are options for solving those issues and bringing reliable Internet access to difficult areas.

WIRELESS WALL OUTLETS

If Ethernet cables are already in place to those areas — or if they are accessible with a new Ethernet cable — an in-room wireless access point can provide a Wi-Fi solution. However, be sure that you choose wireless devices consistent with devices already operating your wireless network.

For example, if you already have an Aruba wireless network (www.arubanetworks.com), wall-mount Wi-Jack Duo wireless wall outlets by Ortronics/Legrand (www.ortronics.com) are the smallest and least obtrusive such access points on the market. They come in molded enclosures that mount discreetly in a standard single-gang wall outlet in both guestroom and public area. It connects to a building's existing structured cabling infrastructure with a standard 110 termination and is available in two versions: one with just a wireless access point and the other with an embedded 10/100 Ethernet port for network devices such as printers, security cameras and laptop computers.

The wireless wall outlets use Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology, so the network will require PoE injectors in the telecommunications room to function. General managers agree that that cost pales compared to that of refunded guestrooms and disgruntled guests.

UNDER-CARPET CABLE

If you have a dead zone where you cannot install a standard Ethernet cable, consider under-carpet cable. For example, Hitachi Cable Manchester (www.hcm.hitachi.com) makes a thin Cat 5e similar in size to a flexible plastic ruler (1/8" × 1-3/8") and designed to function effectively but unnoticed under carpet squares or rolled carpet in commercial or residential applications. Similarly, Video Products Inc. (www.vpi.us) makes a super flat cable (1/16" × 1/3"), available on spools or in pre-molded patch cords. These Cat 5e cables are ideal for hiding under carpets, running along cramped front desks, or installing in guest- or food-service areas where unsightly exposed cables or patch cords won't do.

FLATWIRE

Finally, another potential lifesaver for a network-unfriendly building is the Cat 5e cable from FlatWire Technologies (www.flatwireready.com). When installed properly, FlatWire Ready wire products are almost impossible to detect by sight or touch.

The FlatWire cable is 8/1000 of an inch — thinner than a business card. Once attached to the wall, it is covered with a mesh tape and then a concealing compound; when that dries and is sanded, it can be painted or wallpapered to become virtually invisible.

The current product line includes a two-pair Cat 5e Ethernet (10/100Mbps) cabling kit that includes custom termination devices for each end of the FlatWire data cable. However, be aware that this may be a better option for providing an Ethernet network jack than a wireless wall outlet; cross-connection to a wireless access point may be difficult, even impossible. But FlatWire may still be an excellent way to provide an Ethernet outlet in a previously unreachable location in an older hotel.

FlatWire Ready products can even be installed over textured surfaces. For example, if installing FlatWire Ready products on a textured ceiling, the first step is to clear a path through the textured surface. Next, attach the wire along the path. Then apply a store-bought textured ceiling repair kit to cover the wire's path.

These products need to be in your arsenal as you try to coax computer network functionality out of your charming — and occasionally infuriating — older facility.


Russ Munyan is a freelance business and technology writer in Olathe, KS. Reach him at www.russwrites.com.

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